View Full Version : Col Negs for B&W Shooting?
On the Leica forum on photo.net, there's an individual who, though very sharply opinionated, is also very knowledgeable. (If you inhabit that forum I'm sure you can guess who I mean)
He is very down on C-41 B&W films, claiming that you might as well shoot col and convert to B&W -- that the B&W films offer no advantage (I'm sure he doesn't have any wet darkroom in mind here -- he's talking about scanning).
I have noticed that fast col films have very tight grain these days. I like shooting Fuji Superia Xtra 800 for its speed. But I've never thought about it being an XP2 or T400CN replacement.
Any thoughts on this? Has anyone here done any side by side scanning experiments between B&W C-41's and col C-41's converted to B&W?
I'll do some of my own experimenting, but wondered if someone had already been there. It would certainly simplify film selection for me if this were true, and, as with digital, I could decide whether an image works better as a col or B&W image. The other advantage would be that the col emulsions cost less because they can be picked up in discount stores.
Here's a quick experiment with a couple of images that I had handy. Fuji Superia Xtra 800 shot with a Stylus Epic. Digital ICE used on these scans and the col and B&W versions received the same amount of slight USM.
Bicycles - col
Bicycles - Channel mixed to B&W
RR Station hallway. Not much col here to begin with, but here's what it looks like in col
RR hallway - col
The same image Channel mixed to B&W
RR hallway - B&W
It's hard to tell from small web images, but the larger versions, in Photoshop, had tight, non-obtrusive grain and the tonal ranges of channel-mixed col felt like B&W.
I shot a roll of Superia 800 in my Leica CL the other day. Once I get it processed I might have better images to experiment with.
Hi Gene -- I have seen and done conversions of color images to B&W and they can come out very well. I have not done a side-by-side comparison of the same scene done with both color and B&W C41 films, though.
The color films have three emulsion layers (or four for some Fuji), each with dyes for its assigned color. Each layer is filtered and responds mainly to its color... So the film then has two kinds of information recorded: coloration (chroma) and tone (brightness value).
When the image is desaturated, you're throwing the color information away, so now the image must rely on tonal value only.
My understanding of the chromogenic B&W films is that they also have three emulsion layers, though each has a different sensitivity to light. That is, there's a faster layer and a slower layer. So the color film technology has been bent to the purpose of capturing more tonal value information and giving a broader exposure latitude.
So on this basis, I'm inclined to believe the purpose-designed B&W chromogenics are likely to give richer tonal value results than converted color images.
There's another aspect to this issue that may be more important; psychological. I have found that I'm much less productive when I carry a camera with color and another camera with B&W film than when I choose one or the other.
I seem to need to "shift gears" mentally and concentrate on images where color is an essential component of the composition... or on those where varying tonal values are most important. It's a matter of seeing.
There are certainly times when I'm "seeing" black & white, and yet a color composition will smack me in the eye. Or vice versa. But this isn't very common, and then tends to throw me for a loop in trying to resume the previous mode.
I suppose one could load color film and pretend it's a roll of black & white. :-)
I'll be interested to see other comments on this.
Here's a quotation from Scott Eaton on this subject (from the photo.net digital darkroom forum):
There *is no* advantage to shooting C-41 B/W films over color C-41 films if your intent is to scan. Portra UC 400, Kodak HD 400, Fuji Reala, Fuji 800, etc., will give you more capabilites and basically better images to work with. UC 400 is sharper than that bland, toneless junk Kodak calls T400CN, and you have channel mixer to play with which affords infinite tonal adjustments over T400CN or XP2. If I want 'grainless', low contrast images from 400 speed 35mm print films, I'll use a gaussian blur in Photoshop vs T400CN.
XP2 is a great film, but it's obsolete if you want to scan it compared to the newer, much higher tech color C-41 films like Portra UC and HD 400. Stick with the high quality C-41 color films for scanning and give the chromogenic B/W films a pass unless you have to have a lab make prints for you. The B/W C-41 films are nothing more than color C-41 films with a single layer, so you are actually getting less, not more when you use them.
And here's the URL for the context of his remarks:
I have no idea if he's right or wrong when he claims that chromogenic B&W films are single layer. Anyone know?
I meant to add as a footnote that I don't have any particular views on this one way or another but up until now I've mainly stuck with traditional B&W films such as HP5+ and Tri-X and am thinking, for convenience, of using more chromogenic, or just colour. The colour option is particularly appealing from a point of view of flexibility.
I agree with Scott - unless you are going to make a print using conventional silver bromide paper there is little, if any, benefit to using chromogenic B&W film over colour film. For me, the ability to make the monochrome image using the channel mixer in PS swings it very much in favour of using colour film.
However, I still feel happier using conventional B&W film for my own work.
By the way, the Coen Brothers' film "The Man Who Wasn't There" was shot on colour neg and printed on high contrast B&W printing stock.
Helen, thanks for the reply. I still have a large stock of HP5+ that I use for most of my B&W shooting, but there are times when the convenience of C-41 films make sense for me. Of these films, I've grown fond of Fuji 800. Somehow I had never thought of it as a serious alternative to chromogenic B&W before.
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